At a gathering of the History Department on its Spring Open Day, we announced the winners of the Loomie Prize. Each year, the Loomie prize is awarded to the best seminar paper produced during the previous academic year. All M.A. and Ph.D. students who have taken the proseminar/seminar sequence or a research tutorial are eligible. The judges unanimously selected Tobias Hrynick as the winner for 2014, awarding an honorable mention to Stephen Leccesse. Hrynick’s paper, “The Customs of Romney Marsh: Compromise and Common Interest in Wetland Administration,” was written under the supervision of Maryanne Kowaleski for the Medieval History proseminar “Medieval England.” Leccese’s paper “Emerging From the Sub-Cellar: John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and the Rise of Corporate Public Relations in Progressive America, 1902-1908,” was written under the supervision of Christopher Dietrich. For more information about the Loomie prize papers, read on…
Loomie Prize- Tobias Hrynick
Hrynick’s research paper offers an original analysis and sharp perspective on a very old primary source (the ‘Statutes’ or customs of Romney Marsh, a wetland area of Kent and East Sussex in England) through the lens of an up-to-date environmental history perspective. The so-called ‘Statutes’ or ‘Ordinances’ of Romney Marsh were not formal statutes at all, but customary regulations that governed the upkeep of the sea dikes and mandated cooperative work through systems of taxation and courts. The customs were never part of common law, though they were recognized by the Crown and cut across the jurisdictions of two counties and hundreds of manors and villages. Although the ‘Statutes’ were well-known and in force into the nineteenth century, there has been little serious work on the medieval origins, development, or content of this body of customary law, partly because no one has ever traced their manuscript history and partly because they were written down piecemeal and probably long after they had been in effect.
Hrynick’s paper points to how scholarly reliance on the seventeenth-century edition and text of William Dugdale on the Statutes has distorted our understanding of their function, development, and impact. He does a first-rate job analyzing the language of the ‘Statutes’ and the chronological development of different versions of the customs, but he also uses database analysis to explore the relationship between water management and political authority in tracking the identity and changing powers of those who served as bailiffs and jurors in Romney Marsh. Along the way he put his excellent understanding of wetland administration to good use in highlighting the relative role of lordly and tenant involvement in land drainage, a major issue since there is a tendency to attribute most of the initiative in the ‘inning’ or draining of the marsh (to make it productive arable or pasture) to wealthy manorial lords, particularly monastic lords, rather than to groups of free landowners who created the cooperative framework that is the hallmark of marshland administration.
The judges were very impressed by Hyrnick’s successful deployment of environmental history methodology in a medieval setting. And they remarked “the work he accomplishes not only involves an early source, but he also has gone beyond one edition from the 17th century and corrected it. The amount of work and skill involved in doing so is considerable; [and that it is] it “really is well written.”
Honorable Mention- Stephen Leccese
The judges also awarded an honorable mention to Stephen Leccesse’s essay “Emerging From the Sub-Cellar: John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and the Rise of Corporate Public Relations in Progressive America, 1902-1908″ written under the supervision of Christopher Dietrich. Rather than remain aloof and detached from public criticisms, “muckraking in fact proved a crucial push for Standard, motivating Rockefeller and his associates to develop a public relations policy in hopes of winning back public opinion. … Using largely personal correspondence and contemporary periodicals, this essay will explore the public relations initiatives Standard Oil and Rockefeller implemented from 1902 to 1908. It will argue that both worked together in developing an active public relations policy in response to criticism, their actions were consistent with developments in the field of public relations in the early 20th century. Judges were very impressed by the volume of archival research that went into this piece, and its contribution to the overall argument of the paper.